Like Waking From a Dream

Last night—or this morning, depending on your perspective—I dreamt of an old ladies’ beauty parlor where I was expected to know one of their past customers. One of the ladies said her name began with Bu-something. I suggested my late wife’s name and sure enough that was it. Seems my dream-Nancy had a makeover before we moved to Montana, and it all made perfect sense to me; even the dream-memory of a glamorous, dark-haired Nancy accompanying me to Montana seemed real, even vivid.

While the name was correct, everything else about that dream was pure fiction, but I didn’t realize it until I awoke. That non-critical phenomenon is both the beautiful and the scary thing about dreaming. Regardless how fantastic the dream scenario, we typically buy into it without question until we wake up.

Sometimes, however, my dreams are so vivid that their thoughts and emotions persist awhile, even into my waking mind. A common comedic situation has a woman clobbering and interrogating her husband because he had behaved badly in her dream. Believe me, it’s nowhere near as funny in reality as it’s sitcom depiction.

My longest dream lasted the twenty-odd years from my birth until God opened my eyes to His truth. During that protracted period I believed without question, everything my mind, emotions and senses told me. Like my dream-memory of Nancy, I believed there was a God, and even His Son Jesus. I believed in the religion my Dad and the priests and nuns taught me. I believed that I was worthless because of my sinful mind and appetites. I believed that my self-serving treatment of people was okay because I was “nice” while doing it. I believed my lusting, thieving, lying and hating was alright because nobody really got hurt, and I could tell a priest about them and say my penance to gain absolution. I even believed in “science,” though it seemed to contradict my roughly Christian religious beliefs.

Yes, dreams can seem real and vivid, even blissful, but we must deal with waking life’s realities. Waking from sin’s seductive illusions requires the same sort of  dogged determination, but to all who accept God’s gift of salvation from sin, and eternal life in Christ Jesus, He gives us a leg up in the form of His Holy Spirit. Apostle Peter, by the power of that same Holy Spirit, wrote:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:2-4)

Like that stereotypical scenario about the woman clobbering her husband after her dream, fully awakening from my sin-fueled fantasy life, even after God revealed His truth to me, took time. In fact, forty-odd years later, I’m still unlearning the lies I believed before I was reborn. If you’ve been saved my our glorious Lord Jesus you have already begun awakening from your natural life’s illusions, but it is only a beginning. As Apostle Peter said, by Christ’s great and precious promises, which you must know in order to apprehend them,  you will partake of His divine nature and escape this world’s lustful corruption.

Awake, O dreamer, to God’s beautiful reality through our loving Savior and His eternal Word.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Oops

This evening I had the best of intentions … pretty much, anyway. A while after my evening meal (I wouldn’t glorify it with the title, “dinner.”), I decided to take my bedtime pills and retire. So I waltzed over to my pill sorter, only to be reminded that it was empty. Not terribly daunted, I took it over to my computer desk to refill it in front of a Netflix movie; multitasking is next to godliness, right?

So there I was, carefully sorting out my supplements and meds while watching a good movie and munching on these amazing, “Dark Chocolate Super Fruits” from Costco, in preparation for downing my meds, some of which must be taken with food, and I forgot to quit munching. I mean, dark chocolate is good for you, and super fruit is good for you, so this particular snack must be great for you, right?

Three hours after retiring, my eyes popped open and refused to pop back closed. Seems I’d forgotten about the caffeine that resides nefariously in dark chocolate. Besides, I felt hungry after all that (ahem) sugar. Well, fifteen minutes of that is enough for anyone, so I climbed out of bed, donned my jeans and robe, made some PB-and-honey toast, brewed a cup of sleepytime tea, and sat down to write this blog post.

What I had intended for good … pretty much, anyway … had caused rather inconvenient, unintended consequences. That’s my life’s story—and that of every other human being.

Even Jesus faced unintended consequences when he remained in Jerusalem to lecture the lecturers instead of accompanying his family back to his home in Nazareth. His mom and dad were worried sick when they couldn’t find him along the dusty, bandit-infested, Palestine road, so they turned back to search for him. What perils they faced, abandoning the caravan of pilgrims to return to Jerusalem, but they loved their son enough to risk anything to find him.

The Bible doesn’t record his apology to his folks when they found him in the Temple teaching the teachers, but I’m sure he must have. After all, that would only be the right thing to do.

Despite our best intentions, we too occasionally pursue actions that turn south on us. Perhaps we unintentionally offend a brother or sister in the Lord, or drop a news-bomb that we thought was common knowledge. Christ-followers don’t intentionally gossip, but none of us are always able to perfectly control our tongues (note the triplet of absolutes in that sentence).

Whether we are the offender, or the offended party, we have two choices: During such embarrassing moments our first impulse as the offender is usually to make excuses or dismiss the offense as trivial. That, however, instantly transforms a thoughtless oversight into a true offense that could, and often does, grow into a brierpatch of bad feelings. Our second, and more difficult choice, is to fess up and beg forgiveness. Sure it wasn’t intentional, but it was hurtful, and needs to be positively dealt with before it can infect the church with division.

The offended party also has a significant responsibility, and that is to forgive the offense. Whether or not the offender responds in a godly manner to their gaffe, Jesus’ Law of Love requires that we forgive up to 490 times (Matthew 18:21-35). The alternative is sin, even if you’re technically in the right.

Jesus said that reconciliation is more important than sacrifice (Matthew 5:23-26), meaning religious practice. So, before you offer praises to God, take care of those unintended consequences; it’s the law!

The Wonderful Cross

Chris Tomlin’s lyrics are a great place to start with singing glory to our Savior King Jesus, but our praises mustn’t end there. First, we need to think about the words we are singing.

When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain, I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

What is wondrous about the cross on which our Lord died? Nothing whatsoever! It represents the curse that Jesus bore for us, who truly deserve to so die. The fact that He actually chose to die in our place because of His love for us, His wayward creation, is the most wondrous thing of all. But that awful cross? Just two pieces of lumber; nothing special about that.

Christendom has elevated the cross, a symbol of Christ’s redemptive work for us, to the status of a religious icon. We’re okay as long as we only view it as the symbol, but when we elevate it to a position of singular importance and venerate it as a source of God’s grace, we are in danger of becoming idolaters.

Some Christian denominations cover their church buildings’ walls with icons representing Jesus, saints and religious objects. Others condemn using icons in worship. Both extremes are wrong when they take pride in their respective beliefs and make them conditions for spiritual fellowship.

Now, for the phrase, “Prince of Glory.” Maybe I’m picking nits, but I wonder if using a non-Biblical title for our Lord Jesus is quite the thing to do. He is indeed the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and the King of Glory (Psalm 24). Would the lyrics have suffered if Tomlin had used, “King of Glory” instead? The cadence would have been the same, so why not use the Biblical phrase?

The balance of that stanza cries out a truth that the church badly needs to grasp. Oh, aren’t we into worldly gain! The more, the merrier! Ephesians 4:17-32 gives us a strong statement of how we must conduct ourselves in the church and the world. Apostle Paul begins with, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Then, in verse twenty-eight he adds, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.” Does that include any provision for accumulating possessions? Can we find that anywhere in the New Covenant of God’s grace? So, why do we insist on devoting ourselves to accumulating possessions for our own glory?

Finally, Tomlin’s second and third stanzas remind us of Christ’s depth of suffering and the response we owe to Him.

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose, so rich a crown

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

Read more: Chris Tomlin – The Wonderful Cross Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Weeping Prophet

So, here’s the story: Last night I went to bed with hopes of falling asleep without delay, but as I lay there communing with my Creator, I began praying for heart-holiness, both for myself and for His church. As often happens when I pray for Christ-likeness, I began weeping, and the more I contemplated the contrast between Christ and myself, the more my tears flowed. I heard myself sobbing, both from grief and gratitude; I felt a sense of the Holy Spirit’s grief about my soulish stubbornness, and unbearable gratitude for God’s grace despite my failure to apprehend the victory I have in Christ Jesus.

Then, this morning’s Our Daily Bread devotional cited Lamentations 3:1-6, 16-25, where the weeping prophet Jeremiah mourned Jerusalem’s destruction and the Jews’ subsequent captivity. So in typical fashion, I lumped both experiences into a single conceptual stew.

God is disciplining His church in much the same way that He disciplined His people Israel, albeit with His New Covenant grace.

  • As Jeremiah cried out warnings about Israel’s wandering ways, God’s New Testament writers warn His church about our own carnality.
  • As Israel ignored the prophet’s warnings, most of today’s church lie comfortably in our worldly affluence, enjoying our Sunday religious lift while snoring through our godly preachers’ warnings.
  • As Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, popular culture is destroying the institutional church.
  • As Babylon carried Israel’s intelligentsia into captivity, the world system is co-opting the church’s theologians.
  • As Babylon absorbed Israel into its own culture, the world system is defiling God’s church through our preoccupation with its entertainments, its trendy styles, and its pursuit of youthful image.

Though we have much reason to grieve, we have far more reason to rejoice; none of this surprises our omniscient God, and His plan for our triumph over the world system is, and always has been, in place. Yes, I still mourn for those of His church who will never awaken from their slumber, but I rejoice for the faithful remnant who heed His warnings, becoming incorruptible salt and prevailing light for this stale and dark world. Like God’s people Israel, the church’s exile is only temporary, and we have the Great Hope of our eternal homecoming, where our tears will cease and we will commune with our Lord Jesus face-to-face.

A Hard Pill To Swallow

My thousand milligram vitamin C tablet gives me fits when trying to swallow it. The stupid thing begins dissolving before I can gulp it down, so it sticks in my throat until I can gulp enough water to break it free. But vitamin C pills aren’t the only supplements that are hard to swallow.

(1 Peter 2:12) Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Thank the New American Standard Bible for that awkward wording, but its meaning is quite close to the original language. Semantics aside, today’s church needs to play catch-up regarding, “the thing(s) in which they slander [us] as evildoers.” Such things are too numerous to list here, but the, “excellent behavior,” in that verse does not mean acting “Christian.” It means, “winsome goodness,” and most of today’s church could never be accused of that.

(1 Peter 2:13) Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,

Here is the abrasive coating for our hard-to-swallow pill. Fallen humanity does not easily submit to authority of any kind, and least of all to God, as our great-great-great … grandparents so aptly demonstrated. Here again, to see apparently moral people with issues in that area, all we need to do is take an honest look at today’s church. Because we’re “saved,” we think we have a free pass to heaven regardless what we do in the flesh. But for God’s perspective, we need to flash back to His command in verse twelve: Maintain winsome goodness among outsiders … (my rendering; look it up, it’s pretty close).

(1 Peter 2:14) or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

Apostle Paul, in Romans 13:1-8, said the governing authorities bear the sword to bring down God’s wrath against evildoers, giving us ne’er-do-well human beings incentive to behave. While this is true for all people, it applies even more directly to Christ-followers, as outsiders are all too aware of our higher, Biblical moral standard. Again, flash back to verse twelve; when they watch us behaving badly toward one another, or anyone else for that matter, we’ve just proved they are right in their negative opinions about us, and therefore about God.

(1 Peter 2:15) For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

According to Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” Christ-followers must do what is right, not from fear of earthly authorities, but from fear of God. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

Go ahead, gulp that Scriptural pill right down, so you can shut the fools’ mouths.

 

Response to a Good Man

Laurna Guiste posted an article titled, As a Christian, where a reader posted his comment to the effect that most other great religions provide the same benefits as Christianity, and that becoming a good human being is a pre-condition for becoming a Christian or member of any other religion. I answered his thought with mine, which are based upon God’s Word.

I respect your views regarding human goodness through living according to the great religions’ principles. Though I respect your views, I feel compelled to exempt the Way of Christ (not Christianity) from your list of great religions, for it is not a religion at all. Many have succeeded in perverting Christ’s Way to their own religious purposes, to the extent that the result hardly resembles the Biblical Way of Christ at all. Respect for the Person of Christ Jesus demands a careful reading of His words. Such a careful reading will reveal exactly what He said about Himself, and the fact that He alone is the Way to our Father God.

Unlike many of the world’s religions, Christ does not require conversion to any particular religion on pain of persecution or death. Jesus taught a morality that far exceeded any religious law: We are to love even our enemies, and do good to those who persecute us. We are to be pure of mind, and not simply of body. We are to deal fairly with all people, honest to our own hurt. We are to forgive completely those who have injured or defrauded us. When someone strikes us on the cheek because of Him, we are to offer the other cheek as well.

Though Jesus was born a Jew and perfectly followed the Torah, the Jewish religious leaders had Him crucified for purely political reasons, fearing the Roman occupation rather than God. You are right in saying that “Christianity” is one of many religions, but it is just as impotent for redemption as all the rest. Only Christ provides salvation, and that apart from good works produced by human wisdom or goodness. Only those works done through Christ’s Spirit living in us will provide blessings beyond this mortal life.

You are obviously a good person, bhuwanchand, and I pray you will discover the incomparable blessing of eternal life in Christ Jesus, God’s only Son after His own kind.

Love in Him,
James

In retrospect, I can see how an inquirer might think that fully following Christ is a daunting endeavor. In fact, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted. I said, “attempted,” because I haven’t yet mastered the Spirit-filled life that Jesus modeled. Nor will I ever master it, as only the Master, God’s only begotten Son, could do. In that regard I can’t help praising God for His infinite mercy and unmerited favor toward me. Only He knows the depths of my personal depravity, yet He called me to redeeming faith in Jesus as the only Way to Himself.

I praise God for “good” people, and pray that even they will see their need for salvation through the only One who can provide it.

Parallel Universes

If you’re a regular visitor to TWDB, you probably wonder why I chose to deal with, “Parallel Universes.” After all, that’s the stuff of String Theory, or Sci-Fi, right? Well, sorta. I happened to stumble upon (apologies to the web site by that name) a post on The Daily Post, dealing with responding to readers, and that linked to another Daily Post instructing bloggers in How To Starve a Troll.  Fascinating stuff, but you may wonder what that has to do with parallel universes. Brace yourself—

Blogosphere etiquette closely parallels many of the “one anothers” of the New Testament’s epistles, despite the popular image of Christians biting and devouring one another. Thing is, we’re commanded not to behave that way, toward the brethren or toward outsiders.

By spending time reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word, I’ve discovered how often spiritual principles intersect happenings and concepts we encounter in everyday life. I was going to say, “parallel,” to go along with my title, but it wouldn’t be accurate. Almost always, spiritual principles run directly opposed to those we know and love in our fallen, corrupt world. Typically, if you want to follow God’s Way, you will have to do exactly the opposite of your natural inclination. So, if you want love, you have to give of yourself without strings, rather than expecting the object of your affection to make you happy. If you want to prosper, you have to give sacrificially. If you want to live at peace with this world … well, forget about it if you want peace with God.

Contrary to appearances, life in Christ isn’t upside down; it just looks that way from the worldly perspective which, in fact, is completely bas-ackward from God’s “very good” creation. Why? Because from the beginning we’ve been mucking it up at every opportunity, just like daddy Adam and mamma Eve.

So, quit mucking it up, will ya? Get right with God through Jesus Christ, and enjoy the, “very good,” parallel universe.

C.S. Lewis—More on God’s Love

This is the Jesus I knew as a Catholic.

This is the Jesus I know now.

From Mere Christianity:

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

Over all, I can’t find much fault with Uncle Jack’s take on loving God. He did, however, miss one key concept; to possess some grasp of the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and the depth of the Father’s love for us in allowing Him to take the world’s sin-guilt upon himself, is to love God more than naturally possible. If God’s demonstration of sacrificial love for you, personally, fails to excite you with overwhelming love for Him, you’re missing one of the two elements I mentioned above.

I know that’s true because I was that cold-fish Christian. Raised in the Catholic church, I was constantly bombarded with the Stations of the Cross, and the gory details of Jesus’ passion and death. But one night God gave me a dream where I met someone who was trapped in one of the many legalistic, “Christian” sects, and I felt a love for that young man that dwarfed even the love I have for my own daughters. It was a love that made me desperate to reach him with God’s eternal truth of priceless grace toward rebellious humanity. I normally can’t remember my dreams long enough to tell about them, but this time I recalled it in vivid detail, including the desperate love I felt, so I knew it was from God. Once I understood God’s message to me, I began weeping from brokenness, gratitude, and yes, love, for the Savior I never truly knew before that time.

If God’s love doesn’t fill you with that completely overwhelming gratitude and love for Him, get to know Him better through lots of time in His Word. If, on the other hand, all this Godly love-stuff isn’t worth your effort, you need to truly turn your life over to Him, rather than continuing to practice pretend-Christianity.

Why Lukewarm?

Francis Chan

I mean, not speaking of myself, of course; it’s all those people. You know, the less-spiritual “brethren:” The ones who don’t spend enough time in God’s Word. The ones who don’t help out. The ones whose lives are too hurried for much prayer. The ones who fill their minds with worldly entertainments. And the ones who follow pop-culture’s behavioral and fashion trends, rather than Godly principles.

Wait a sec! That’s me, except for the last one. No one would ever accuse me of being trendy. Those are the kinds of things that gradually cover our eyes with worldly-colored contacts, nudging our world view and priorities away from what Jesus taught, one teeny-tiny step at a time. Walk that path very long, and no one will recognized Christ’s presence within—that is, if He’s still there.

Bible Gateway sent me a link to the article, Biblical Literacy by the Numbers: Fixing the Problem, where Ed Stetzer suggests: 1) Viewing the Bible as a whole, as opposed to fracturing it into sound-bites to suit our purposes, or taking a, “spiritual fast-food,” approach to our “McBibles.” 2) Creating a reading and study plan, personally or congregationally, since becoming conversant with God’s word flows from the top down. 3) Teach the Bible, not predigested curricula that may, or may not, present Biblical principles faithfully. 4) Teach and preach from the best contemporary translations, while taking older, more established versions, into consideration.

Stetzer summarizes with, “Reading the Bible is actually part of the abundant life Christ has given us,” but I say it’s far more. Only when God’s Holy Spirit makes His Word alive within us, will we understand His life-giving principles, but each Christ-follower—that’s you and I—must commit to learning them. We cannot live the Christian life without them.

The resurrected and glorified Jesus told His disciple John to warn the Laodecian church about the consequences of their lukewarm commitment to Him (Revelation 3:14-22). If there are ages within the historical Christian church, we are now in the Laodecian age, where we take our ease, having, in our own minds, satisfied Christ’s minimum requirements for salvation. We are rich (by the world’s standards), we have become wealthy, and have need of nothing … nothing but repentance.

Faith’s Other Side

What’s bright is not always beneficial.

In today’s Our Daily Bread devotional, Mart DeHaan wrote about trusting God, and included a short poem by that famous Greek author, Anonymous.

Trust when your skies are darkening,
Trust when your light grows dim,
Trust when the shadows gather,
Trust and look up to Him.

Sometimes our faith gets turned on end when God seems to work against us, rather than for us. If in those difficult times we want to, as Apostle Paul wrote, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” we have to check out the the faith-coin’s other side. If you haven’t guessed that hidden message, read Anononymous’ poem again. That’s right; it’s trust!

You’ll find trust easy to grasp when your world is progressing swimmingly, but you may find it more illusive when you feel like you’re up to your eyeballs in piranha. So, what’s the key to flipping that faith-coin? The psalmist knew the secret:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
(Psalm 119:71)

Find your “statutes” in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. I’m not talking about the Ten Commandments and other laws found in the Torah, but the godly principles that apply to us as directly as they did to God’s people Israel. That verse from Psalm 119 spells out God’s purpose in allowing affliction in your life; if you have founded it on the Rock, affliction drives you to His Word for faith-building. If faith were a building, trust would be the roof that keeps you dry and safe in the worst storms. As long as I’m pushing metaphors to the limit, 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 gives you a Bill of Materials for your house.

Oh, you may think the pounding rain, the gale-force winds, the torrential flood, and the thunder and lightening will get to you, but as faith brings trust, trust brings, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, (that) will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)